updated 2/28/2005 6:54:45 AM ET 2005-02-28T11:54:45

Jef Raskin, a computer interface expert who conceived Apple Computer Inc.'s groundbreaking Macintosh computer but left the company before it came to market, has died.  He was 61.

Raskin died Saturday night at his home in Pacifica, Calif., his family said in a statement.  In December, he told friends he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Raskin joined Apple in 1978 — as its 31st employee — to start the young company's publications department.  At the time, computers were primarily text-based and users had to remember a series of arcane commands to perform the simplest tasks.

In 1979, Raskin had a different idea: A computer that's priced affordably, targeted at consumers and extremely easy to use.  A small team, under his command, was put together at Apple to pursue his concept that would eventually become the Macintosh.  "His role on the Macintosh was the initiator of the project, so it wouldn't be here if it weren't for him," said Andy Hertzfeld, an early Mac team member.

Raskin, who worked as a computer science professor before joining Apple, was well aware of the research being done in computer interfaces at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center.  He worked to bring it to the attention of Apple executives.  "Jef was incredibly enthusiastic about what he saw at Xerox PARC," said Dave Burstein, who is working on a film about Raskin's life.

Raskin also named the Macintosh after his favorite apple, though the name was slightly changed because of a trademark issue with another company.

Raskin led the project until the summer of 1981, when he had a falling out with Steve Jobs, Apple's co-founder.  He left the company entirely the following year.  "One of the biggest things I give Jef credit for was putting together the very beginnings of the Mac team with some extraordinary people who didn't necessarily have the credentials, but had everything else to do something great," Hertzfeld said Sunday.

When the Mac was unveiled in 1984, it radically changed the personal computer industry.  No longer were users forced to type commands.  Instead, its interface mimicked a physical desktop with folders and filing cabinets.  Documents could be dragged from one area to another.

The final Mac, however, was priced at an unaffordable $2,495 when it first appeared on the market and sales were disappointing after the first few months.  But the concepts behind the Mac interface quickly found their way into other software, including Microsoft Corp.'s Windows.

After leaving Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple, Raskin founded another computer company, Information Appliance, and designed another computer that incorporated his ideas.  He also wrote a book, "The Humane Interface," which was published in 2000.

Raskin continued to work on software that incorporates his ideas on interfaces.  The first release is scheduled to take place in the next few months, Burstein said.

While best known in the computer industry, Raskin also pursued other interests.  He conducted the San Francisco Chamber Opera Society and played three instruments.  His artwork was displayed at New York's Museum of Modern Art. He also received a patent for airplane wing construction.

He was an accomplished archer, target shooter and occasional race car driver, friends said.  "He believed in having fun, too," Burstein said.  "The people who worked with him at Apple talk about how important were the toys and the games and the sense of joy that he demanded."

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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